Innate Ideas as a Naturalistic Source of Metaphysical Knowledge

Abstract

This article starts from the assumption that there are various innate contributions to our view of the world and explores the epistemological implications that follow from this. Specifically, it explores the idea that if certain components of our worldview have an evolutionary origin, this implies that these aspects accurately depict the world. The simple version of the argument for this conclusion is that if an aspect of mind is innate, it must be useful, and the most parsimonious explanation for its usefulness is that it accurately depicts the world. There are a number of important criticisms of this argument. These include the idea that evolutionary justifications are circular, that evolved mental content and principles are not necessarily accurate, and that, if the argument is taken seriously, it has some highly dubious consequences. These criticisms necessitate various qualifications to the initial argument. Nonetheless, it is argued that, in some cases, important conclusions can be drawn about the world from an analysis of evolved contributions to our view of the world. An evolutionary approach cannot provide an ultimate justification for any belief; however, in certain circumstances, it supports the conclusion that a given belief is a reasonable first approximation. To the extent that innate content and principles pertain to topics in metaphysics, they can be viewed as a naturalistic source of metaphysical knowledge.

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Correspondence to Steve Stewart-Williams.

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Stewart-Williams, S. Innate Ideas as a Naturalistic Source of Metaphysical Knowledge. Biol Philos 20, 791–814 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-004-6835-7

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Keywords

  • Evolutionary epistemology
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Innate ideas
  • Justification
  • Metaphysics
  • Naturalism
  • Rationalism